Developers sue to make Seattle more developer-friendly
A coalition of several developers filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court on January 15 that would make Seattle, already booming with construction cranes, more friendly for developers. Their issue? One of the city’s affordable-housing programs. Since 2006, the city has struck a deal with developers in the downtown core: In exchange for setting aside a few modestly affordable units or paying fees toward a city housing fund, developers get to build taller buildings. For example, developers could build a 400-foot tower where they’d otherwise have to keep it under 300 feet. The Seattle City Council raised those fees by about one-third in December 2013. In their lawsuit, which cites three Supreme Court decisions, the developers claim that fee hike is “an out-and-out extortion.” So they’re asking a judge to invalidate that higher fee, making it cheaper and easier to build the tallest buildings allowed downtown—while throwing even fewer scraps to the city’s growing affordable-housing needs. The Stranger, 1-29-14.
Citizens weigh in on Seattle’s next police chief
The people of Seattle have started weighing in on what they want in their next police chief. At the first of seven community workshops to be held around the city over the next ten days, citizens from the University District told workshop leaders that they want the mayor to choose an innovative leader, someone well connected to the community, someone who will go into the neighborhoods and listen to feedback, someone who will embrace reform, not fight it. Sources tell KING 5 that close to two dozen people have already expressed interest in the police chief’s position and the application process hasn’t even opened yet. The mayor is expected to name a search firm later this week. KING, 1-29-14.
Six apply so far for Kent City Council seat
Six people have applied so far for the vacant Kent City Council position. The early applicants include Dean Carlson, Elliot Heifetz, Richard L. Mauser, Michael Sealfon, Lauren Stephan, and Cheri Stewart, according to an email Tuesday from City Clerk Ronald Moore. Sealfon is the only one who has recently run for the council. He lost to Dana Ralph in a 2011 City Council race. He also applied for a council vacancy in 2008 filled by Jamie (Danielson) Perry. The position became vacant when Ken Sharp resigned Jan. 16 after only two weeks in office because of pending first-degree theft charges. His resignation left the seven-member council one person short. People who have lived in the city limits for at least one year and are registered voters can apply through Friday, Feb. 7. Kent Reporter, 1-29-14.
Inslee backs Laurent in race for state Democratic Party chair
Gov. Jay Inslee has weighed in on the race for state Democratic Party chair, endorsing former Planned Parenthood political director Dana Laurent. In a letter to Democratic party activists, Inslee and his wife, Trudi, called Laurent “an authentic grassroots leader” with “a proven track record both a Democratic volunteer and as a successful political strategist.” The endorsement comes ahead of Saturday’s scheduled Democratic Party meeting in Vancouver at which about 170 members of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee will meet to elect their next leader. Dwight Pelz, the current chairman, announced his retirement in September. Seattle Times, 1-28-14.
Inslee outlines plan for schools
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday renewed his call for ending tax breaks to generate money for public schools and a cost of living increase for thousands of teachers. But the first-term governor’s proposal met immediate resistance from Republican lawmakers who defeated the same approach a year ago. Inslee outlined a plan to raise $200 million a year by getting rid of seven tax breaks, including a sales tax exemption on bottled water and a provision allowing some out-of-state residents to avoid paying sales taxes on purchases in Washington. He wants to pour about $130 million into books, supplies, electricity, and other operating costs of school districts for 2014-15. About $74 million would cover a 1.3 percent cost-of-living pay adjustment for employees of schools and community and technical colleges. It would be the first COLA for them in five years. Everett Herald, 1-29-14.
House passes bill to require statewide paid sick leave
House Democrats passed a bill Wednesday that would require all employers with more than four full-time workers to provide paid sick leave. HB 1313, which now goes to the Senate, would require companies to provide sick leave on a tiered scale. The more people a business employs, the more leave it would have to provide. Small- and medium-sized companies would provide one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Large companies, with 250 or more employees, would provide one hour for every 30 hours worked. The smallest businesses would be capped at 40 hours of total sick leave. The largest would have a 72-hour cap. “No working family should be forced to leave a sick child at home or go to work with the flu for fear of losing their paycheck,” Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27), the bill’s prime sponsor, said in a statement. “Today’s paid-sick-days bill means they won’t have to.” It’s unclear, though, if the bill can pass the Senate. Seattle Times, 1-29-14.
Bill would eliminate sales tax on guns and ammo
State Rep. Jason Overstreet (R-42) is sponsoring a bill, HB 2529, that would exempt purchases of guns and ammunition from state sales tax. “The legislature finds that firearms and firearm ammunition are an essential, indivisible, and inextricable part of the right of a free people to bear arms for the purpose of defending themselves against unlawful aggression, and to protect and secure their individual rights, their liberties, and the preservation of free government. The legislature intends to encourage the purchase of firearms and firearm ammunition within the borders of Washington state to ensure the economic health of Washington-based retail businesses by providing a sales tax exemption for the purchase of firearms and firearm ammunition within the state,” the legislation says, in part. Four other Republicans have joined the Whatcom County legislator in sponsoring the measure. Bellingham Herald, 1-28-14.
Lawmakers dispute whether Puyallup or Yakima is ‘state fair’
A battle of the fairs is brewing in Olympia, and legislators are taking sides. The
event formerly known as the Puyallup Fair changed its name to the Washington State Fair in 2013. It has the largest attendance of any fair in the state and is one of the largest in the world. But its new name was not a designation decided by a legislative body. Instead, the change came as part of a rebranding effort by organizers of the fair (Editor: which no one paid any attention to). But Rep. Norm Johnson (R-14) wants to designate the Central Washington Fair in Yakima the “Official State Fair of Washington.” He claims he’s not looking to start a quarrel with Pierce County lawmakers. Rather, HB 2622 would be official recognition of the Central Washington Fair’s history as the state’s original fair, he said. His proposal would not require the Puyallup fair to rename itself yet again. Olympian, 1-29-14.
Tomás Villanueva: A man for his people
There are pages and pages of history on Tomás Villanueva, Washington state’s most storied farm-worker rights advocate. But those who share in his struggles may not know the full story of the man. They experience it when they collect a fair paycheck at the end of each week in the orchards, when their families are cared for at the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, or when they’re able to abandon a slumlord for quality affordable housing. Yes, they earned it, but it was Villanueva, 72, along with the state’s first group of farm-worker advocates from the 1960s, who helped persuade the state to recognize those rights. Villanueva’s fire in the heyday of his activism was matched by his charm and compassion. Those who know him best, many of whom gathered Tuesday in Seattle for a ceremony in his honor, describe a man who transcended class and ethnicity. Yakima Herald-Republic, 1-29-14.
Unpopularity of the House could turn Senate races
To Representative Steve Daines (R-MT), his vote this month against a 1,582-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill was at once a stand for fiscal sanity and a protest against spending cuts to rural communities, a “constructive no,” as he put it last week. His opponents in the race for Montana’s open Senate seat quickly labeled it a vote against increased funding for the Indian Health Service, Pell Grants for low-income college students, mental health benefits for veterans, and traumatic brain injury assistance for those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also an effort to dry up the clean water supplies of rural Montanans. The attacks on that one vote from Montana Democrats, including a possible challenger in Lt. Gov. John Walsh, highlighted a vulnerability to the Republicans’ quest for control of the Senate: They draw heavily from the unpopular House for candidates. New York Times, 1-29-14.
Republican Congressman threatens reporter
Embattled New York Republican Rep. Michael Grimm threatened to “break” a NY1 reporter and throw him off a balcony after President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The confrontation occurred on Capitol Hill when reporter Michael Scotto followed up questions about the President’s speech by pressing the congressman on a federal investigation into his fundraising. In a statement issued early Wednesday morning, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt said, “It is extremely disturbing when anyone threatens one of our reporters – let alone a U.S. Congressman. The NY1 family is certainly alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of Representative Grimm and demands a full apology from him. This behavior is unacceptable.” But Grimm said he was the victim of a “cheap shot” interview and offered no apology. Later he did. New York Daily News, 1-29-14.
Tea Party groups suffer another huge defeat—are they toast?
The strong bipartisan House vote Wednesday for the farm bill was the third major defeat for conservative lobbying groups since the government shutdown, a sign that they’re losing their stranglehold on the House Republican majority. The trio of defeats: The October bill to re-open the shuttered government and avert a catastrophic debt default (with no strings attached), the December budget agreement to raise spending and mitigate automatic sequester cuts, and now the farm bill to renew agriculture subsidies and food stamps. Tea party groups such as the Club For Growth and Heritage Action fought these initiatives every step of the way and threatened to use their scorecards to downgrade lawmakers who voted for them. In October, they lost the battle when Speaker John Boehner put a clean bill on the floor to fund the government and avert default (although most Republicans voted against it). But the budget and farm bill agreements each passed with the support of 70 percent of House Republicans, a more troubling sign for the tea party groups. Talking Points Memo, 1-29-14.
Expanding financial services is available route for the Postal Service, report says
Are prepaid debit cards and small loans the answer to the financial woes at the U.S. Postal Service? Maybe, according to the agency’s watchdog. The Postal Service inspector general issued a report Monday recommending that the agency expand its financial services to meet the needs of underserved communities. Researchers estimate that the agency could earn $8.9 billion in annual revenue if it captured 10 percent of the interest and fees generated by the 68 million Americans on the fringes of the banking system. Those dollars could reverse years of losses at the Postal Service, which has struggled with waning demand and a congressional mandate to prefund retiree health benefits. But formidable barriers facie the agency. Any changes to the business would require congressional approval, a Sisyphean task considering the contentious political wrangling over the future of the Postal Service. Washington Post, 1-27-14.
To Think About
Costly to the core: Why one expert says the Northwest’s only nuclear plant should be shut down for good
Robert McCullough, one of the nation’s top utility consultants, was one of the first to figure out Enron Corp. was behind the power shortages and blackouts that darkened California in 2000 and 2001. In congressional testimony in 2002, McCullough revealed exactly how the Texas energy giant crippled the economies of Western states by manipulating electricity markets. His work led to billion-dollar settlements and criminal convictions. Over the past 35 years, McCullough has often worked on complex disputes out of public view. But in December, he released the results of an investigation that affects anyone in the Pacific Northwest who pays a utility bill. He spent nine months examining the economics of the region’s only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, which sits on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington. McCullough is hardly anti-nuke — as a Portland General Electric executive 25 years ago, he fought to keep PGE’s now-closed Trojan Nuclear Power Plant open. But his report on the Columbia Generating Station leads to an unmistakable conclusion: It should be shut down. Pacific Northwest Inlander, 1-30-14.